Dave McNair and myself were itching to get back out on the road. The absence of audio shows had us growing restless with work-from-home life, and the impending end-of-days for longstanding events like Rocky Mountain Audio Fest had us both distraught. Was this all a sign of the end? We hoped not.
Words and Photos by Eric Franklin Shook
Terrified by the swirling dark thoughts of the worst case scenario, we fumbled around aimlessly for hope. A light appearing in the distance these days often shines not through the dark and fog of the horizon, but more often through the electric LED glow of social media. Romantic isn’t it?
Fern & Roby had been teasing their newest iteration of the Raven series of loudspeakers on Facebook and Instagram. A sign of good things remaining as they are. The Raven loudspeakers debuted at Capital Audiofest 2018 (linked here) and were the center of attention at Fern & Roby’s open-house at their Factory Showroom and Listening Space (linked here), and something Marc and I were able to inspect beforehand in our previous visit (linked here).
It might all get a bit confusing, but with Richmond, Virginia based Fern & Roby just one state border away from Dave and myself in North Carolina and Christopher Hildebrand (founder and leader of Fern & Roby) such a tender and welcoming host, one shouldn’t be surprised to find hi-fi moths like Dave and myself drawn to the Fern & Roby flame.
Having had enough of the doldrums. Dave and I crafted a plan to visit the Fern & Roby factory, a first time for Dave, and see the new speaker from Fern & Roby before anyone else. A few phone calls and emails later, and we’re on the factory floor taking a tour of the production facilities and finished showroom listening space.
We inspect the machinery as Christopher Hildebrand shows off some of his new and oldest toys. We’re dazzled by the scale of the Fern & Roby operation, as it not only grants the wishes of hi-fi dreams, it’s also the nativity scene for all Tektonics Design Group ventures. Which include everything one can imagine being sculpted and manufactured from wood and metal.
I say sculpting as most of what happens at Fern & Roby (and Tektonics Design Group) feels as much like art and discovery as it does fabrication and prototyping.
We don’t waste time making our way into the listening space. Dave takes note of its many charms as we settle in for a listening session.
The speaker we’re here to lay ears on is the new Fern & Roby Raven III floorstander, an evolution of the original Raven floorstander (review linked here) and Raven II bookshelf (review linked here). But more so of the Raven II bookshelf speaker if we’re to be fair and honest.
The Fern & Roby Raven III is a modestly sized floor-standing full-range speaker. The slender cabinet structure shares a few horizontal dimensions with the Raven II bookshelf speaker, but is vertically taller. However the added enclosure volume is ported and tuned much like the preceding Raven floorstander.
The main (and only) driver is of the full-range high-efficiency type, and not one selected off the shelf. It’s a custom driver that Fern & Roby and SEAS developed over the 2020-lockdown-year to further evolve the new Raven loudspeaker’s signature sound.
Our host fires up the first track and several things jump out at us right away. Depth of bass and really outstanding spatial details. Imaging like the city of Richmond itself, a river runs through it and it runs deep.
Dave and myself are both fans of a tight center image, and the Raven III in this space are mavens of the sort. The image also does well to create depth for background instruments and push forward the image when the program material calls for it. Think dry lead vocals standing up front between the speakers, with background singers and the band filling out the space behind. It’s marvelous.
Bass is just right. It’s tight as a drum, and tastefully tuned to compliment the new full-range driver’s upper mid-range and treble smoothness. There’s really no complaint or detail worth squabbling over.
Mr. Hildebrand has done well to design and evolve an already compelling musical experience. The Raven III may in fact be the speaker that the original two Raven models were always destined to become. Though, all three models do things differently despite sharing craft lineage. So one could make a subjective case for all three flavours.
Of the two of us, Dave entered this adventure most skeptically and myself most skeptical of Dave’s personal preferences of speaker being satisfied. Both of us ate our own words and prejudices that day. Dave snapped into attention once the bull was out of the gate, himself grooving along with the music, all worry of his and mine assuaged.
Myself felt the new Raven III speaker audiophile worthy by an unsettling amount by the wrap of track two, and that if Dave had some niggles to share on the car ride home, I’d have the confidence to call him crazy. Thankfully for the peace, those minerals weren’t needed. We both rode home impressed with the new Fern & Roby speaker and wanting another listen.
A review of the new Fern & Roby Raven III is pending, and as of right now it’s looking like either Dave McNair or Marc Phillips taking the next deep dive with the Raven III. We’ll see who wins that fight.
Editors’ Note: The new Fern & Roby Raven III will debut at the upcoming Capital Audiofest 2021, and be shown with new gear from ModWright Instruments. The exhibit system we listened to during our visit to the Fern & Roby Factory was modestly powered with LTA electronics. The system planned for CAF 2021 will receive 225 watts per channel, and boy are we going to be there for it.
Fern & Roby Raven III photography by Eric Franklin Shook